Before 1920 
  The Future

  The 1920s:
Concepts of Objectives

Plans for Individualized Instruction

Basically, individualized instruction is instruction that considers the needs of the students. Ideally, the students would control the pace at which they progress through instruction and the materials they use would be suited to their cognitive skills and learning styles (Gagne et al., 1992).These plans provide evidence that there were alternatives to traditional instruction available.

The first individual instruction plans were developed between 1910 and 1920, but were not popular and failed probably because the task fell mostly to teachers who could not manage plans for 20 to 30 students by themselves. In the 1920's, however, several plans were developed that were quite successful.

Because they involved self-directed as well as teacher-led instruction, these plans provided support for the continued development of well-designed materials and instruction.

Mary Ward and Frederic Burk, San Francisco State Normal School

Ward and Burk created a set of self-instructional materials that allowed learners to progress at their own pace with a minimum of teacher direction

They were stopped by California Court ruling that only the State Board of Education could publish printed instructional materials.

Winnetka Plan: Carleton W. Washington and Helen Parkhurst

Washington and Parkhurst were associates of Burk's and, while Washington was superintendent of the Winnetka, Illinois public schools, they created the Winnetka Plan.

The Winnetka Plan included:

  • self-paced, self-instructional, self-corrective workbooks
  • diagnostic placement tests in which learners were tested to determine which goals and tasks they should tackle
  • self-tests that students could take themselves to determine if they were ready for testing by the teacher
  • a simple record-keeping system which tracked the progress of each student

Only after performing satisfactorily on the teacher-administered test could a student go on to new material.

The two main tasks for faculty were:

  • to analyze course content into specific objectives
  • to develop the plan of instruction to allow each learner to master the objectives at their own rate

Group activities were not overlooked: approximately half of each morning and afternoon were devoted to activities such as music, plays, student government, and open forums for discussion. Under the Winnetka plan, "classrooms became laboratories or conference rooms, and teachers became consultants or guides."

The Dalton Plan: Helen Parkhurst

The Dalton Plan was originally developed by Parkhurst to use in an ungraded school for crippled children.

The Dalton Plan included "Contract learning." Having agreed to a contract, students were free to complete them at their own pace. No new contracts were permitted until the current one was satisfactorily completed.

Helen Parkhurst, after experimentation in her own one-room school with Maria Montessori, developed what she termed the Laboratory Plan. It called for teachers and students to work together toward individualized goals. The Laboratory Plan was put into effect as an experiment in the high school of Dalton, Massachusetts, in 1916. From this beginning, the Laboratory Plan and The Dalton School eventually took their names and their mission.

To read more about the current Dalton School, associated with Columbia University:

From here you may read about Helen Parkhurst and the philosophy of the Dalton Plan.


Gagne, R.M., Briggs, L.J. and Wager, W.W.(1992). Principles of Instructional Design. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers.